Season 3, 006: ...what challenges do you face when doing so? Something different for this month's prompt, & a chance to be considered for mentoring...
I write because what if as I began to piece together the first white gossamer shreds of memory, they are ripped away, leaving nothing of my beginnings by blackness, a slight limp and a distinctive laugh?
I have no memory of my original mothers voice, but there were times growing up when a familiar intonation, a wind blown conversation brought on a sharp intake of breath, and an almost unstoppable need to find its origin. I was caught between the desire to follow the voice and the dark shadow of abandonment. It set the rhythm of my days and it took a lifetime to change it.
For the first 40 years of my life, my bloodline was unknown to me, grafted onto a branch of English archbishops, genealogists, itinerant Norwegian weavers , professors, inventors, explorers, restless men, and unhappy women.
But the music of my beginnings would not let me be. It hummed through open windows, piped up through my bare feet and plucked my untamed hair. It came in the drone of the dulcimers strings in the songs of Ann Grimes, an early collector of Appalachia, music, and mother of my best friend, Sally. It came out in a cadence of a Carney man’s call, in the fire lit stories the tramps and travelers told stopping by the Olentangy River on their seasonal journey from southern mountains. It arrived in the bales of freshly shorn sheep‘s fleeces, in the whirl of the spinning wheel, and the sissing sound the threads made as they slipped through the hand set a reeds of a 100 year old loom. All these things were carefully piled at the edge of memory. They so changed the hue of the blackness that abandonment lost its power.
I stepped beyond the carefully laid out prison walls of my beginning to start the journey.
My earliest memories revolved around a black emptiness from whose edges blew a dry, cold ice like mist. When I was older and could use the dictionary, I was able to name this place which lies back of the beyond.
It was oblivion, the state of being forgotten.
My challenges are time, beginnings and endings….
Will I, at 82 be able to put all I found, in readable form.
Purge the panic and surge with joy
I write because I need to be consumed and subsumed by something bigger than my entity. I want to mend the severance of my grief and bridge a chasm of desolation with curiosity and exploration. I want to reach through the shrouds of loneliness and beyond the masks of coping to empathy for others. I write because I have no other God to call upon for safety, succour, or salvation.
Every morning I wake up to lumpy thoughts swirling into syllables which then mould themselves as words. When I write, I face my irascible monsters and turn them into pets. I listen to them, stroke them and encircle them with love as they doze by my side. I am grateful for my fears, grief, loss and loneliness because each facet plays it’s part to rebuild, renew, restore me. Writing helps me to pause my judgements and cultivate compassion, not just for other people, but also for my past, present and future self. Through writing, I have learned to tell my truth in a way that I’ve never had the courage to reveal verbally. I think of the process as a loving labour like revealing a rough gemstone’s glory by cutting, polishing, setting and wearing.
I’m challenged by ineptitude, self-doubts and a total absence of hope to write one single word of worth. Writing questions my validity, yet words ratify my existence. There are days when I am overwhelmed by doubt and paralysed by fear, preventing me from writing. I ask myself “Why is this hard and what am I scared of?” Then, I capture all codswallop tumbling from my mind and give my brain free reign and rein to splurge it’s jumbled pain. Just like the contents of a drawer tipped upon the floor, each thought is gathered, studied and recorded. Emotions are woven into words to create a cord to form a chord for a reader.
The next phase is taking my piece to my writing group for feedback. When joining such a group was first suggested I reacted with a severe panic attack. Within an hour of internet research I’d found a group online and had approached the organiser for joining details. It’s the only way I know to overcome my anxieties. Within twenty-four hours I was sitting in front of my computer listening to incredible people reading their work and listening to feedback. It took me a month before I set myself the goal of presenting a piece to the group. Now, I look forward to people telling me what they need more of and where they think I can improve. I relish the exposure a lazy or cliched sentence and immediately get excited about how I can re-write, improve and think deeper about what I really want to convey and how best to deliver. Despite my craving for connection, I’m filled with awe when others express that I have touched them.
My first memory of writing is aged about three, sitting at my granny’s kitchen table. I couldn’t actually write. I was doing what artists pleasingly and importantly call mark making. I knew what I was writing was serious because I was doing joined-up writing. That was how grown-ups wrote. I hid my writing in the airing cupboard, a warm, safe space for putting important things.
Later I wrote real, decipherable notes to my parents and hid them round the house in the hope that they would find them and understand me. I was often told off for talking too much as a child. I wrote down the important things in the hope that I wouldn’t be punished and that they would read what I was not allowed to say. I’m not sure they ever found them.
When that didn’t work, I went through a phase of writing my last will and testament. I wrote it over and over again. I was desperate by this time, so I gave up hiding them and would leave them out in plain view. I remember being so desperate I actually showed one to my mum. She said: ‘Why are you writing a will when you haven’t got anything to leave anyone?’ which very much missed the point. It’s not what I would have said if I had found one my kids incessantly writing their will at the age of 12.
I come from the generation of children brought up in the dying days of Victorian parenting methods. I felt like I was not seen and despite the talking, rarely heard. Writing was a different matter. Both my parents were readers, they valued the written word. I knew that if I could find the right way to make my mark, I stood a chance of being taken seriously. I had serious things to say.
What I took from my failed experience was that the way I wrote must be wrong. When my parents read what I had written, they didn’t engage with me in the way I hoped they would. I assumed that I hadn’t got the right words. It never occurred to me that they couldn’t or wouldn’t see what was in front of them, both in word and deed, and that it was not my fault.
Despite my failures I still believe that writing is my best chance of being seen and heard. The biggest challenge for me is publishing what I write. I am still fighting the desire to hide in the airing cupboard, desperate to be seen but afraid to be found out.
How do I write my truth while maintaining a relationship of trust and integrity with my family? I cannot write in isolation from my loved ones, but I cannot always find my way to writing myself without hurting them.
For about 10 years, I barely wrote. Lists of shopping and DIY plans and thank-yous don’t count. I kept my hands busy with babies and this new world filled up my head. Very occasionally, a poem leaked out in the small hours as I rocked a sleepless child, but it would float away before I could decant the child into a cot and find pen and paper.
Before children, I’d usually had a notebook on the go, or at least a diary large enough to stick postcards in, jot down thoughts. Younger, as a teenager, I copied out poetry and song lyrics, tried to fit my thoughts to other people’s rhythms.
In the first lockdown, something changed: with a new set of rules, I could add in a couple of my own. I needed to connect with other people, and with the words inside my head. And I haven’t stopped doing this since. Turning on that rusty tap – and beginning a new, just-for-my-words notebook – began a flood.
All those thoughts, captured and brought into the light. I have written about my grandparents, my parents, my lost elder sister. My babies, my past, my future. The places I’ve been, the places in my head. I’ve discovered things about myself, how I see the world. And I’ve also discovered that people enjoy my writing, how I see things and describe them.
So I write, and talk about writing, in case it is catching, in whatever variant. Perhaps someone will start their own notebook, or dust off a neglected talent, get stuff out. My grandma didn’t like the word “stuff”, complaining if I used it in my letters to her. “Why can’t you say what you mean?”
I can’t imagine a life without creativity. It can take you out of yourself, connect you with people on the other side of the world. People older than you, younger, speaking different languages and with different dreams.
If I don’t get the chance to write for a while, when domestic realities take over, I get frustrated – but some of those limits are self-set. I’ve got a rule of not thinking about writing as I fall asleep, as those thoughts inevitably drift away. And I put other obstacles in my own way: I won’t write if I haven’t got my notebook, haven’t got the right pen, if there’s too much distraction around me.
There’s something in me, in the wiring of my brain, that doesn’t know what to do with an opportunity – or more exactly, knows what to do, but doesn’t. And instead sits there, blinking at it, while its light fades. Dealing with this is my biggest challenge. So I make lists of what I need to do. Reply to the email, submit the thing. Which kind of counts.
Why do I write? Because it’s who I am, and what I need to be.
THE MIRROR: Why I Write
Before I was ten, I developed a survival strategy for all the images I could not hold up in the mirror. I was only in touch with the devouring aspect of the mother who gobbles up everything. I thought whatever she could not see, she could not devour.
I kept these thoughts, feelings, and sensations hidden in a journal. I wrote constantly, vigilantly. My journal was like a confidential secretary recording the story of my true self. It became a mirror where I could see and feel my truth resonating in my daily experience. The confusion, guilt, and anger I could not express verbally was processed through writing. Writing held my body and soul together. It was the only way for my true self to survive.
Being female meant being a servant like my mother when she was a girl. My mother was born in Northern Ireland. She was one of the youngest of nine children from a poor farmer's family. My mother worked in private homes as a domestic, washing and cleaning for families until she came to live with an aunt in America.
I could only get my mother's approval when I was "useful." She praised me when I was mother's little helper; she would fondly call me her" Right Hand Man." I was valued when I cleaned, ironed, or folded laundry. She made me believe that my only role in life was to be of service. To please her, I rejected aspects of myself, like creativity and femininity. The creative-maternal feminine does not exist in the devouring mother.
Because of the many household chores, I wrote stories, poems, and plays. I could feel pleasure by staying in my head; it was a way of dissociating. She would become furious if she caught me "scribbling," taking away from the efficiency of my chores. She would shred whatever I wrote. Any display of creativity threatened her. So, I learned to keep this pleasurable inner life hidden. Mother's approval came only from my chores and how quickly they were accomplished. The negative mother hates joy, and to do anything that one enjoys produces guilt.
She feared I would create, explore, or enjoy the world's sensual pleasures. If I did get caught in a moment of pleasure, she would scold me and make me feel guilty, call me selfish, useless, and good for nothing to keep me in my place.
One day, when I was ten, my mother sent me on an errand to buy potatoes. I went to the store on my bicycle with a friend. In that moment of guilty pleasure, I fell off the bike and broke my right arm. I remember sitting on the railroad tracks with my friend crying, not because I was in pain. Being right-handed was a gift and a curse. Not writing for a few months seemed unimaginable, so I scrawled with my left hand in defiant rebellion against the right-hand man as a servant to my writing.
Right, let’s write. Together. The pen curls letters on the page as the mind toils. ‘Write,’ they say. Over and over, ‘write’.
About you, my dear. Your story. Your language. Your narrative. Write it all.
I feel a fool though. Who am I to write? Who would read it? It seems a waste.
I look at the red thread coiled around my left wrist. A lump gathers at my throat. Commitment. I made a commitment to myself. And so, to honour myself, and my grandmothers who walked this earthly path before me, I write.
I got here in tatters. I was like a Tibetan prayer flag, ripped and frayed, stuttering not fluttering in the wind. Gusts tore at me. Once I was bold colour and clear, legible words, speaking out loud…but I faded. Jaded. 37 and colourless, wordless.
I betrayed myself.
Invisible fingers grip at my throat. My jaw tightens and locks. My voice box hollows. Salty water pools in my more-grey-now-than-green eyes. I swallow. Pushing it down, away. As I have every time before. I take conscious breaths… in….and gently out…. So that no one can see what’s inside. Breathe it out. But I’m not, am I? I’m breathing it down. I’m pushing it down again. Just as the food used to do. The chronic overeating to hide and disguise. Fat children, fat teens, fat women aren’t angry, are they? They’re soft and squidgy. Not a simmering flow of volcanic anger. No.
This isn’t easy.
It isn’t meant to be, my dear.
Hit. Kick. Punch. Tear. Shout. Release the wrath; the wild, uncontrollable rage of your womanhood that has sat in your sacral since you first bled. It’s time, my dear, to be confronted by your own wildness. Create space for it. Let her take shape, form. Let her borrow your vowels, consonants, vocabulary, syntax, rhetoric, metaphor. Let her take possession of your voice box spitting out pre-linguistic utterances, primitive sounds, basic needs. Let her snarl and hiss. Create space for the guttural howl to come. The thick, jarring rasp as she yanks and pulls her way out of the cave you shoved her into. Be decent enough to allow her, to accept her.
No more tiptoeing around. No more papering over the cracks. No more whitewashing. No more bullshit metaphors. Let her growl. Let her sob. Let her rage as she sets fire to your voice box. Let her kick her legs and punch her fists as she crawls out of the darkness. Let her howl not into the moonshine, but into the clear light of day. Let her be seen. See her. See her.
Not the fat kid anymore. Not the hormonal 20 something. Not the giving charity worker. Not the healer. Not the friend. Not the daughter. Not the sister.
The wise woman.
The one who hisses, clicks, whistles as she births herself out of madness and into the light. The one with symbols tattooed on her night skin, with dreads, with flames in her amber eyes, mirth in her dancing bare feet.
The one who is technically accurate and makes pin-point observations about the workings of the body, of the mind. The one who knows. The one who has books stored inside: knowledge and power and wisdom.
The one with words- like riverstones- handed across the realms. Tangible words to be rolled between finger and thumb. Words that come easily, playful, like the stones you threw in hopscotch when you were 7.
Stop pushing her down.
Stop pushing her away.
She’s here now. She’s here. Right now.
And she’s here to stay.
See her. Hear her. Be her.
I write to celebrate the startle of orange chicken of the woods mushrooms, the walk home through the tree shaded paths with my T-shirt made into a basket, the sauteing with garlic, the cream, salt and pepper, fresh rosemary and shredded Parmesan on steaming pasta. To remember the feeling of picking my son up at the airport after a year away, late afternoon kayaking and the loud smack of a beaver tail. To remember the thin film of flour on the counter, my aproned daughter sparkling with sugar, always happiest when baking.
I write because life cycles by and cycles through and it's so easy to forget the golden parts and writing is the only way through the dark parts.
Because writing can hold what cannot be said. Writing doesn’t tell me I’m crazy, doesn’t say, “I will,” and then doesn’t. Writing doesn’t walk away.
Because I live timidly in small circles that long to ripple out across a pond filled with the haunting wail of loons.
Because I want more.
I write because thoughts move in and circle like vultures. I write because words trail along with me on walks, drop heavy like October hickory nuts and are sometimes hidden in the tapestry of fallen leaves, words brown and yellow, and sometimes bold scattered reds. I write because words are irrepressible and hang about like a cross squirrel with flagging tail if not released onto the page. And because by this time of my life I’ve repeated my stories too many times, and they’ve become just that: a story I tell, lacking emotional truth, told to make sure others don’t feel uncomfortable.
I write because I love the edits, the changes, watching words become more when gathered and rearranged. I write because metaphor allows the truth to be told without shaming people who loved me the best that they could. Writing pushes me out of my comfort zone even though the words sometimes collapse in on themselves. Nothing is ever wasted.
I write because women before me were silenced and because other women dare to share and their courage inspires.
I write because it is mine.
And yet, I am challenged by being born responsible for others, a heart laid claim to before its first beat, the enduring pull to protect, do the right thing, prove worth. I am challenged by to-do lists, work, chickens to feed, laundry, dirty floors and an insistent dog. I buy the groceries and cook the food. I clean the toilet and write the bills. Even when the list is done, there's the challenge of believing, the persistent doubt that tells me it’s all been written, I could spend this time learning something useful. Sometimes I fear the truth that will be uncovered. I hold back, not wanting to hurt anyone more than I have, knowing I can’t tell everyone’s truth and the truth changes.
Why do I write?
I write to understand myself. A cliche.
I write to understand my life. Also a cliche.
I write for my children. To show them that they can know themselves and their own hearts.
I write to understand the world and my tiny place in it. To find something. Anything. To fill the vastness.
I write to find peace and silence. To soothe.
I write to explore my feelings and emotions, to listen to my heart beat.
I write to quiet the noise, the storms that often stop me in my tracks
I write to shut my noisy thoughts, to calm the chaotic chatter. Get it all out.
I write to define love and find meaning in my existence.
I write to clear the clutter, to carve a path through the messiness that often fills my mind.
I write to write myself out, to heal my heart and pain.
I write to remember, loves lost, people gone forever, to celebrate life and joy.
I write to honour my life and those that have walked it with me.
I write to to be curious, long lists of dreams and plans, hopes and fears. To consider what comes next.
I write to feel the pen in my hand and see the ink on the page, a physical act.
I write for comfort. To speak my absolute truth. A safe space. A haven.
I write to speak the unsaid. The things that I can only say to myself. The hidden parts of my soul.
I write to problem solve, to ask questions of my life and look for answers, patterns.
I write to create, to explore words and sentences. To fulfil a part of me that yearns to make something.
I write to find hope, to revisit the darkest times and find light in their passing.
I write to find energy. The energy to move through this life.
I write because it pushes me to the limits of myself, it challenges me to press against the outer boundary of safety and comfort. Like dipping myself in the grey icy winter sea, I seek in mid life to push back the edges of me. Of what I am capable of.
I write to re-define who I am. To change. To become better. To become myself.
I don’t write because I need to be anywhere or travel with it. This act is enough.
Why do I write? I write because I must.
I write because my thoughts become muddled as they form into speech. I open my mouth, sounds come out, but they don’t reflect the meaning in my head. The disconnect between my brain and my words has been with me always. My neurones, with their out-of-kilter connections, have never been studied or diagnosed or labelled. As a child, I was simply odd, a loner with an empty chair by my side. I knew I was different to the others. I stood on the fringes, observing the children who knew what to say.
Long childhood hours were spent creating projects, keeping creepy crawlies and writing, writing, writing. When written words spilled out, like magic they were in the right order, struck the right note, and they danced unselfconsciously in the sunshine without any awkwardness at all.
Fifty years on, spoken words still falter from my mouth in that familiar jumbly, erratic fashion and a spotlight shines on me as I know all the time people are looking at me, wondering who is this strange woman and her blurted-out words.
But give me a pen and the tap is turned on. Words flow out onto the paper and nowadays the keyboard, like molten lava, and I know they represent exactly what my fizzing brain is saying. The words aren’t fully formed or polished or even making sense, but they are the ingredients from which something will eventually emerge, sometimes slowly and painfully like a butterfly unfolding its damp brand-new wings, at other times popping out into the world like a baby seal, slick and perfectly formed.
When I write I can feel the mask, the one I wear to fit in, falling away until it’s barely there. I don’t need to concentrate on how to compose my face, to make sure I look you in the eye, or whether my comments are acceptable or ill-judged. I don’t have to pretend I am someone else.
When I don’t write, I’m bottled up like a blocked pipe. Stifled, as if I’m wearing a surgical mask, all communication muffled.
So why, sometimes, do I stop writing? I feel like it’s a kind of punishment. I know writing mends me, but there are times I don’t want to be healed. I must write, but an invisible wall lies between my thoughts and my hands. My words are sucked away in a vortex of gloom.
I have strategies now, writery friends and Tanya’s thoughtful prompts, to gently ease me away from such stupor. And now, even, I have shared my words. The inner workings of my mind have been read by others. At first that idea was as impossible as jumping from a cliff, but slowly the temptation to share grew like a seedling inside me, stronger and stronger as it reached towards the light. I danced around the idea, a moth drawn to a flame. Tempted but terrified.
Yet, here I am.
In the middle of our seventh-floor apartment was a small, windowless room, a space where we were safe from typhoon winds strong enough to smash the windows in the flat. When a force eight storm warning looked likely, the one we children hoped for because then school was cancelled, my parents would attach a metal cross bar, which had suction pads on each corner, to the biggest window to reinforce it. There was a story, perhaps apocryphal, that a man had died there, shredded by glass as the enormous pane blew in.
That dark room was perfect as a mini photography studio. I stuck up black card and pinched lights from my brother’s desk, plundering my mother’s spice cupboard for my first composition. It was a world of rich pigments and textures and I tipped them into coloured heaps, moving the lamps to light them just so. One of those, the nutmeg, was a bit part player, tucked to one side because it was nothing special; greyish-brown and slightly wrinkled, neither big nor small. It didn’t have the long, glistening lines of the vanilla pod or the intricate folds of the cinnamon stick, nor the deep, hot-country hues of ground paprika and turmeric.
Years later as a student, and having failed my first-year exams, I made a six-pint rice pudding to feed myself as I revised for resits. I grated a nutmeg onto the top and was astonished by its internal beauty; dark brown, irregular lines weaving through a light brown canvas, like neural pathways on a brain scan. And, as I took it between my fingers and lifted it to my nose, an inhale revealed another dimension, a warm-spice world of countries, perspectives and languages. I was holding an idea between my fingers, turning it over and over, exploring its possibilities.
This is why I write. Because the smallest thing can blow open your world. Working in slow time, you can watch ideas and beliefs spin out and away from you, their edges stretching for meaning. You begin to see complexity; something that was just blue yesterday, reveals itself to be subtle shades today: midnight, Denim and French navy. And words offer you connections, not just with concepts but with people. Because as you roll through life’s daily interactions, with the experiences that mark you in ways that can be difficult to voice, you begin to understand yourself and the people around you. You can be better and do better, more confident about what matters.
But, it can be difficult to create the solitude to think, let alone write. I am raising children, keeping a marriage and extended family together, throwing my all into the daily demands of everyone else. Orchestrating spinning lives consumes almost all of me: laundry, meals, cleaning, homework; I am counsellor and confidante. But, I am also resisting, quietly redrawing boundaries and expectations, clinging on to a crack in wall. Inch by inch I am advancing towards that other dimension, the one with limitless edges.
Writing has been a gift and a lesson in the act and art of noticing.
Every time I write, it’s an opportunity to observe the transience and yet enduring persistence of the everyday. It’s all at once the comforting clasp of a tiny hand and the dull ache of longing and grief. Through writing, I can hold the weight of joy and despair in both hands and feel their outline. Above all it’s a reminder to grasp hold of the novelty and awe that we so often lose as adults.
My writing journey began with learning how to read. As a child, I was often found hiding in a corner, head down immersed in a book. Reading was all at once an escape, a place of solace and a welcome distraction. It became a magical way to dive deep into fantastical otherworldly places and to make sense of the world around me. As my messy handwriting evolved alongside my reading, secret scribbles and scraps of poems appeared on the page in determined scratchy, spidery marks.
Eight-year-old me dreamt of writing and I would copy out my favourite books. Yet in my teens writing became something secretive and furtive, adolescent self-consciousness and a desire to break away from family ties, led me to throw many notebooks away in rebellion. Years passed and I swallowed down my desire to write, pushing it aside in pursuit of independence and a career. But the words were always there, jangling in my pockets like loose change.
It was not until the arrival of my first-born that I returned to writing. Becoming a parent opened the floodgates to the words that had long remained dormant. My notes app became filled with 3AM thoughts, threads of poems and lines of prose that would not settle until I had captured them. Yet writing whilst mothering presented a whole new world of challenges; from the perpetual interruption to the bone-aching sleep deprivation, from the loss of identity to the pervasive and intrusive feelings of guilt and imposter syndrome to name a few. During the first few years, I found it hard to let go and lean into the interruption, frustration would seep into my writing and I grieved the lack of space and time to create. Yet for any writer, time presents itself as a slippery creature and over the years, I’ve come to value time’s elasticity and luminosity. From the snatched early moments when I rise before the rest of the house and write for fifteen minutes to the pockets of time that appear as I fall asleep, no matter how long I leave it, I can always return to the page.
As I enter a new season of my mothering journey, I’ve come to view my writing with compassion and to value its unerring companionship. The perpetual interruptions of life will always be there, so I try to welcome them in and invite them to kindle my curiosity and fuel my desire to write.
I put pen in my hand and suddenly I'm a river where before I was a couch. The words come forth and flow. Confessions, songs, journeys, poems. Elemental talk, dreams, character arc, Gaia's whispers. Divination, inner stories, outward observations, news of the world. Confessions and Prayers. For this I must write. Mystical visions and spirit callings. For this I must write. Poetic visions and gateways with words. For this I must write. Stream of consciousness and voices of the wild. For this I must write. To live and to let die. For this I must write. To create and to conjure. For this I must write.
I put pen in my hand and suddenly I'm a waterfall where before I was a dam. The words come forth and insist to be known, to be recognized. The page is a record playing the song I hear in me and in you. The typeset is a sculpture, a work of written art that took form and gave me flight. This is why I write.
I am in the midst of writing my first book titled Living Within the Beauty of the Earth. It is a work of nonfiction composed along with Nature. I discovered my poetic self in 7th grade English and I have written ever since. Writing is the river that confesses and reworks my emotional life. Writing is a way to express my soul path and mission to be a co creator with Gaia Earth. I was a paraeducator for 22 years and made the conscious choice at age 51 to resign. While navigating the uncertainty of my life after leaving the safety of a mainstream job and its revenue stream, a strong voice inside kept showing up to say your work in the world now should be tied to writing. I can be in service to Nature in this medium of writing. It is a soul calling and I am listening and following through with courage and joy. I am a writer and I feel like that has always been with me at the core. It is who I am and it is a liberating thing to declare it as my main work and purpose in the world.
He said it was our secret. He told me no-one would believe me. I was four years old, and I was silenced. I was a bridesmaid at his wedding. There’s a photograph taken outside the church, his hand resting on my shoulder like a clamp. I look terrified. After the wedding, he moved abroad with his wife, my auntie. The trauma didn’t go away, but I knew what I had to do. I have no recollection of this, but my mum told me recently that I begged her to teach me to read before I started school. I knew. I knew where I wanted to go to be safe. I wanted stories. I wanted words on the page, words that would take me somewhere else.
I read everything I could lay my hands on. I read under the covers at night. I read in the far corners of the playing field attached to our small village school. I copied my dad, an avid reader, who, if nothing else was available, would read the label of the HP sauce bottle on the table.
And I wrote my own stories. A very lovely teacher, Mr McNichol, read one out in class once. I was fifteen. He said it was the best story he’d read in a long time. I was mortified. All I felt was shame. I was supposed to be silent, and here were my words, being read out in public. My teachers wanted me to try for Oxford, to take the exam. I thought they were mad.
At university, not Oxford, the first in our family to go, I read and I read. I remember one December afternoon, sitting in a chair by the window of my bed sit, reading Mrs Dalloway. Devouring that book, the words of a magician, I thought. I was eating a packet of Viennese whirls. It got darker and darker, but I couldn’t get up to turn on the light. I was spellbound. How could she write such sentences, create scenes that felt so real. It was as if she was there in the room with me.
I have always kept a diary. For a long time, that was all I could do.
I was writing to bear witness. That question. Why do you write. Sometimes I just want to laugh out loud. I write because I have to. Because it’s like breathing. But most of all, thinking back to that four year old girl, I write because I want to be believed. I write to tell the truth. And because words saved me. The books that mean the most to me now are stories by women: Maggie Nelson, Virginia Woolf, Annie Ernaux, Emilie Pine, Kerri ni Dochartaigh, Amy Liptrot, and yes, you dear Tanya. Fiction or non-fiction, it doesn’t matter. I want the truth, and specifically, I want women’s truth.
Writing grounds me, settles me. I write to escape chaos, to process my trauma. Sometimes magic happens. Sometimes I despair.
At the end of the day it’s simple: I write because I want to tell my story.
My words, my life, my truth.
Why do I write? It’s hard to answer that question when, at the moment, I don’t. My writing has always been sporadic; as a child and a teenager I would handwrite stories in notebooks and on cheap printer paper, my handwriting scrawling diagonally down the page as I tried and failed to write in a straight line. I would tell myself I was writing a novel, that this time I would really write it, but each attempt would end up discarded after the first few chapters, mired in a a mess of plot contradictions and artificial characters.
In my 20s I became a journalist and for a while writing was part of my day job. I loved composing features, interviewing people and forming a narrative, each piece in it’s own way a story. But as I worked my way up the career ladder I found I was doing less and less writing of my own, until now at 31 I manage the writing of other people yet can’t remember the last time I wrote anything of my own.
I want to carve enough time in my life to write, but it feels in many ways like a selfish thing to want. Writing, for me at least, requires some time alone and deep concentration. Since I became a mother in 2021, both of these things have been in short supply. Should I even want time alone, away from my daughter, when I’m already necessitated by my paid work to spend more time apart from her than I want? Or is it important, a sort of feminist act, to show her that women are allowed to want pursuits of our own, to be selfish in pursuing creative desires? I don’t know: that’s why I’m writing this.
I read about a famous novelist, a mother of three, who writes on a notebook balanced on the pram she is pushing around a park. I feel a sense of shame that I do not find time to write: surely it is just a case of self-discipline. I could get up earlier, I could write in the evening, I could, I should, should I? I look at my daughter, perfect in her chubby toddlerishness, and think: you are perfect, why do I need anything more than my love for you, which has transformed me. But even my transformed self still wants to be myself, as well as a mother.
I have no answers, but on this Monday evening at 5:08pm, in the smallest of windows between work and picking my daughter up from nursery, I have managed to write. I have not dusted my bedroom table. I have not stacked the dishwasher. I have not sent the birthday parcel for my best friend which is already a month late. I have written. At least it’s a start.
Here, within writing.
Here, in the space where experience articulated in mind and the pressing of the computer keys brush past one another, lay quiet pockets of time.
In this sacred gap where embodied emotion is suspended, held for examination within breaths pause, alchemy occurs in the active configuration of thought meeting past, inhabiting present.
Crafting experience into the click-clack black letter signifiers of joy, pain, awe, passion, trauma and the mundane; watched over by the third eye of language and grammar - word, comma, stop; here I find my more considered cortical self.
Removed from the demands of the day, pause weds perspective.
Neurons fire from feeling, finding particular articulation.
Here, symbols of exclamation need careful application!
The exclamation mark, a sword to attention.
The responsibility of choice, a chalice held reverently.
Hard won, this prize of thought sat alongside experience curates’ life folded open.
An essence put forth for consumption.
Reader, what do you make of it?
(In truth, I write mostly for me.)
The use of my prefrontal cortex tethers me to my adult self. I enter the storm of memory.
The child needs no longer be in charge.
Fragmentation recedes to quiet order as searching amongst words takes precedence.
Together, the girl and I.
The bird-like slender boned child, wide-eyed overwhelmed at the adult world where she was cast too soon, sits encased in my letter formed arms.
Quietly we look over the sea of feeling to the eyeline of the horizon, where choppy waves resolve to straight qwerty order.
Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, ti.
Control amongst feeling.
Red, blue, yellow.
Agency in shape making.
Metaphors tangle – cat’s got the wool and, as an old woman by the fire I follow the thread - Ah!
Here, pleasure, satisfaction, satiation.
Dear one, let’s look, let’s deconstruct and re-craft this shit to gold.
Reordering the oft-fragmented kaleidoscope of being, an age thickened lens is raised.
As the girl tentatively trusts me to re-order the shards of experience, shifting the glass of perspective back, forth, to clear honed wholeness, a new self is constructed through rapid forming neural pathways.
Here, within writing, I birth myself.
The girl, witnessing this fresh landscape and her now tight held place within, relaxes.
Here resides the space where my arm tenderly encases her birdlike body.
Craft, consider, a breath, a note, a dash of blue, I plunge.
Here composition, dance, play.
The fluidity of water.
Linking the word, which word? to experience, I grind within this act not just the lens on the letters of the past but the eye that inhabits my now, fresh clear.
Here, I grow, upwards, outwards; breath inhaled.
Here, within discovery, envelopes of joy.
Experience metamorphosises and transcends sensation, new feeling, as word.
Petit mort lays beneath the stroke of a key. My own, others.
Here too then, power.
Built from words,
Here I am held, can hold, step forth.
In utter presence,
Here I find myself
Quiet pockets of time.
Losing my Words
I lost my words, somewhere in the rain soaked streets of a foreign city. Months of writing. Pages and pages, written in the corner of ever-changing cafe’s and gazing out at the never-ending darkness on long night trains to the next city. The delicate artefacts of a young woman finding her feet, tender thoughts and so much feeling; now poured out into the street like an overflowing gutter, reduced to littering nonsense.
Liberated by my new freedom I wrote easily then, briefly living out my youthful fantasies. I slept on trains, and lugged what I had with me everywhere. The notebooks must have escaped from my over-laden bag. I retraced my steps, finding them eventually strewn in night puddles, along the winding cobbled street, leading up to the castle. My last memory of them.
What would I think if I found them now? That they were clichéd and cringeworthy I’m sure, but they were free and flowing and I was young.
I still have the vintage leather boots I had been wearing, worn down at the heels from endless street wanderings. Fancying myself then as some kind of flaneur, alone in cities with beatnik literature and my precious notebooks for company.
I believed then that I would always write. That this was just the beginning of a life devoted to literature and art.
Were those my last pages with such freedom? Given over to the world so unceremoniously.
So much happened after returning home, and something of myself slipped away. My innocence lost, but more than that.
The way he chipped away at my freedom and fed my self doubt.
Life became ever more fragmented. Paragraphs became a few short lines, until just the odd phrase scrawled here and there. Bookmarks of ideas and thoughts I’d never go back to.
The focus, dedication and most sadly the belief, never returned.
And then, for a long time- nothing.
Years later, when my son was born, someone long forgotten in me was too.
So little time yet I sneak minutes like an addict, on park benches whilst he naps.
Occasionally I wince at the crime of so many squandered years. I have been both the murderer and the victim, and for a long time this tension kept me stuck, but recently a third way has emerged; I am an archeologist. Unearthing the vital spark of creative desire so deeply buried and silted over by decades of self doubt.
So, tentatively and clumsily, like his first steps, I write again.
I write to see where I find myself now.
Every word reclaims something,
particles of an alternate reality,
where I am
I’m not sure.
Just the vague sense,
That in action a truth will reveal itself.
So I chip away
Brushing the dust off each fragment.
Piecing things back together.